From Our 2010 Archives

Brisk Walking Reduces Stroke Risk

Women Can Reduce Stroke Risk by Walking a Few Hours Per Week

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

April 6, 2010 -- Women who walk two or more hours per week or who walk at a brisk pace can significantly reduce their risk of suffering a stroke, new research indicates.

The findings are based on a study of the exercising habits of 39,315 female health professionals whose average age was 54. It found that:

  • Women who walked at a pace of 3 miles per hour or faster had a 37% lower risk of suffering any type of stroke.
  • Women who walked two or more hours a week had a 30% reduced risk of any type of stroke.

"Physical activity, including regular walking, is an important modifiable behavior for stroke prevention," Jacob R. Sattelmair, MSc, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says in a news release. "Physical activity is essential to promoting cardiovascular health and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, and walking is one way of achieving physical activity."

Previous research has indicated that people who are physically active generally have a lower risk of stroke than those who are more sedentary.

Walking and Stroke Risk

Sattelmair and colleagues examined data from the Women's Health Study.

Every few years, the participants reported their leisure-time physical activity during the past year; specifically, how much time they spent walking; jogging; running; biking; doing aerobic exercise or dance; using machines; playing tennis, squash, or racquetball; swimming; doing yoga; and stretching and toning.

They also reported their usual walking pace if they walked for exercise.

  • Casual walkers were those who strolled at a pace of 2 miles per hour.
  • Normal walkers reported their pace at between 2 and 2.9 miles per hour.
  • Brisk walkers reported walking at a 3 to 3.9 mile per hour clip.
  • Those who walked at 4 miles per hour were placed in a "very brisk" category.

During almost 12 years of follow-up, 579 women had suffered a stroke. The women who were most active in their leisure time were 17 % less likely to suffer any type of stroke than the least-active women.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S., so it's important to identify ways to prevent them, Sattelmair says.

Other risk factors for women include smoking, obesity, migraine headaches, postmenopausal hormone use, and taking oral contraceptives.

SOURCES: News release, American Heart Association.

Sattelmair, J. Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, April 2010.

©2010 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.